Wichita man’s love for pop helps Kansas veterans

Positive Connections

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A Wichita man is using his love for soda to give back to our nation’s heroes.

“I thought Chris drinks a lot of pop, so I could get him a can crusher and he can crush cans and save money and give it to Kansas Honor Flight to actually be helping them out,” said Chris Leon’s mom Pat Leon.

Chris, 29, has down syndrome. His mom, Pat, said Chris’s love for the United States started at a young age.

Chris with Kansas Honor Flight veterans.

“Chris has always loved America and the flag even when he was little. His Grandpa Leon was a World War II fighter pilot in the South Pacific and his Grandpa Peterson was in the Korean War Army Infantry,” Pat said.

Pat said it felt right for Chris to combine his two passions.

“I put on Facebook that Chris is now an official Honor Flight volunteer, so please bring your cans because he is crushing them to raise money for the group and cans started coming into the house,” she said.

Every month or so Chris would take his collected cans to Allmetal Recycling. He then would donate all of the money he earned to the Kansas Honor Flight.

Chris holding bags filled with collected cans.

“After doing that for a while they noticed here that this guy keeps coming in with cans and struck up a conversation one day and I explained what he was doing and from that moment on it seems like Allmetal completely joined in as the partner to help,” Pat said.

Allmetal Recycling teamed up with Chris. The facility now lets customers donate directly to his Kansas Honor Flight fund.

“Chris is really an inspiration to me personally and the company as a whole. He really inspired us to get involved,” said Allmetal Recycling Owner and General Manager Clint Cornejo.

Cornejo is not the only person Chris has inspired. His story and big smile has left a lasting impression on his alma mater, Maize High School.

“I like to use the whole ripple becoming a wave. Chris created a ripple for us,” said Carmen Johnson.

Johnson’s children graduated from Maize High. She met Chris at one of her son’s baseball games.

“There was Chris and his mother sitting in a lawn chair right next ot the dug out hootin and hollering for the team. He is just so inspirational,” Johnson said.

Chris poses with Maize High School cheerleaders as veterans return from a Kansas Honor Flight.

In 2016, the Maize High cheerleaders created a Kansas Honor Flight night at one of the football games. They collected cans for Chris’s cause. It soon became a school tradition.

“Chris single handedly brought us all together,” Johnson said.

Chris has helped raise $35,000 in about five years. The money has been used to send dozens of veterans to Washington D.C.

“You never know what little idea, how simple it can be, people can latch onto it and it can just turn into something amazing that you never ever dreamed of,” Pat said. “The whole story isn’t Chris drinking pop and crushing cans. That is not the story. The story is what other people have seen and how they have been inspired to do something, how individuals can get together and really make a difference,” she said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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